Humanity is now at a point where we’re seriously considering establishing a permanent presence on extraterrestrial worlds. The most probable candidate worlds are the Moon and Mars. There are several qualities that make these worlds appealing, but which one should we colonize first? Two camps appear split evenly between the answer: those that think we should colonize the Moon first, and those that favor the red planet first. This article will attempt to build a case for each world, which will allow you to decide which camp you fall in.
The case for the Moon
Why would the Moon make a great first colonization target? For starters, it’s the closest astronomical body to Earth, making it the perfect stepping stone for places much further. It takes less than a week to travel from Earth to Moon. Resupply missions, communication, and potential rescue missions could all be performed in the timeliest of manners.
At a psychological level, being able to see the Earth while on another world offers a level of comfort that you couldn’t get anywhere else in the solar system. Feelings of isolation and disconnection are real threats to the well-being of future colonizers. Being able to see the Earth from the Moon is peace of mind.
Science and resources
Mining for resources is a huge incentive for space exploration in general, and the Moon is no exception as a source for this. Valuable metals found in the lunar crust include Iron, Titanium, Aluminum, Silicon, Magnesium, and Calcium. Helium-3 is also an extremely sought after resource for nuclear energy. Although rare on Earth, it is thought to be in abundance on the Moon. Additionally, lunar regolith can be used to construct buildings. And most importantly, water found on the Moon can be used to hydrate settlers, and also broken down into oxygen and hydrogen for rocket fuel.
Interesting science will no doubt be conducted on the Moon as well. One tantalizing possibility is outsourcing telescopic research to the Moon. Placing massive observatories on the dark side of the Moon would be a huge advantage over Earth-based telescopes. Lack of atmospheric disturbances and light pollution will produce incredible images.
Another lunar characteristic appealing to scientific research is the low gravity relative to Earth’s. Moon’s gravity is about a sixth of the gravity on Earth. This opens up research into how this level of gravity affects biological and physical systems. Imagine the unique technology developed for use on the Moon in the future. Maybe some of that technology would be useful on Earth as well.
Establishing a full-fledged colony on the Moon would act as a testbed for future deep space exploration. Everything we do on the lunar surface will act as a blueprint for what does and does not work elsewhere. The low gravity reduces the fuel required to launch into space, and the Moon could even be an opportunity to test a space elevator.
Aside from the scientific and industrial aspects, the Moon would also be a great place for space tourism. There are probably countless individuals curious to experience what it’s like in such low gravity. Watching physical sports would be wildly popular on the Moon too!
The case for Mars
On the other hand, Mars has captured the fascination of humans for centuries. Scientists, science fiction writers, and space enthusiasts have floated the idea of colonization since it was first looked upon through telescopes. Mounting interest in Mars, for a large number of reasons, makes it a highly likely candidate as a second home for humans.
When compared to the Moon, the Martian world is much larger. Twice as large, in fact. In terms of real estate and population capacity, Mars is the obvious winner here. Mars also contains at least somewhat of an atmosphere, as opposed to the Moon being entirely void of such. While the Martian atmosphere hardly offers any benefit to humans, it does contain a sufficient amount of carbon dioxide. Taking carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere could produce rocket fuel for spacecraft in need of returning to space.
Scientific interest in Mars eclipses that of many other extraterrestrial worlds. Being similar in size and in close proximity to Earth, it appears to possess many of the same characteristics. Evidence suggests that Mars was once a water world with a thick atmosphere. For this reason, the search for extraterrestrial, microbial life is largely centered around Mars. We’ve been sending robotic missions to Mars for decades, and they’ve revealed many important facts, but nothing will compare to actually having humans on the surface to conduct research. Establishing a colony on Mars would allow scientists more flexibility in the search for life. Also, scientists will have a larger palette of geological diversity to explore on Mars compared to the Moon.
A second Earth
Mars will be the best planet for testing the feasibility of terraforming. Altering the Martian climate enough to allow for fully sustainable human existence is arguably the most exciting prospect of space exploration. Even though it’d take longer than a human lifetime to complete a sufficient terraforming project, the end result would unlock humanity’s potential for colonizing other solar systems. A huge variety of methods proposed for terraforming Mars are on the table, but the best will probably include a combination of multiple.
Ultimately, the colonization of Mars will prove to be a huge accomplishment for humanity. The challenge alone is probably what’s spurring so many efforts to achieve this goal by the 2030s. Skipping the Moon and heading straight for Mars will jumpstart deep space colonization by a huge magnitude.
Moon or Mars?
So which extraterrestrial body should humanity colonize first? Both the Moon and Mars seem to have equal pros and cons.
They’re both great testbeds for novel science and proofs of concept. The Moon is closer and more convenient. But Mars is a noble challenge and a potential long-term home for future humans if it becomes terraformed.
Which do you think humanity should colonize first: the Moon or Mars? Share this article with friends, family, and co-workers to see which camp they fall in.